on March 8, 2001
One of the obvious observations about Ross MacDonald's series of Lew Archer detective novels is that they are essentially the same story. Eerily MacDonald's plot lines reflect his own troubled and unsettled childhood. On the surface, this novel is about a very troubled young woman that seems to be in the wrong place at the precisely wrong times. It seems impossible that she could be innocent of anything or everything. Nevertheless, true to MacDonald's plot form, the real villains are the immature adults that compounded their original sins year by year, lie by lie. The true crime always is years in the past in Ross MacDonald's novels. The perpetrator forever spends his or her life covering up the original crime and always enmeshing his or her child into the original felony.
Ross MacDonald's prose is simply pure art. He settles you into the tacky 40's through 60's of California and then contrasts the empty lives of the rich and the destitute. He exposes his characters as being very troubled and not very innocent. Archer, his guide/protagonist is dogged as the revelation of the true perpetrator(s) slowly emerges. Terse first person narration gives this novel a stunning sense of realism.
This is a really wonderful detective novel, a form of noir that is so special. Vintage Crime/Lizard Press has reissued most of the Archer series and they remain as vital, and entertaining as when they were first printed. I recommend working through the whole series of these wonderful reprints.
However, having read them all and having read most of them several times over, this in my opinion is the best by a far measure. The best of this series is perhaps the best of all detective novels. Chandler and Hammett did not have the power of prose that Ross MacDonald so effortlessly spins.
on September 20, 1998
Though not the best Ross MacDonald novel, this is certainly one of the best (which places it head and shoulders above nearly all the competition).
What is amazing about this audio performance is the exceptional care, expense, and art that went into its creation. Most novels are condensed when put on cassette; nearly all are read by only a single actor or actress. This is read by a large and excellent cast, and the recording company devoted some effort to making the background sounds both realistic and appropriate. The music was simple but quite effective. The acting was sometimes a bit uneven, but the narrator (playing the detective, Lew Archer) was pitch perfect in his role. His voice was the perfect embodiment of the Archer character -- a bit depressed, extremely competent, and at heart a passionate advocate for the good but weak (even if that description does not fit his client).
All in all, this is a novel -- and production -- that can be recommended with the greatest enthusiasm (to quote the tag line that professors must place in their letters of reference for graduating students).
on June 29, 1999
But not quite. While I wouldn't say this was a terrible novel, I also wouldn't say that it was in any way memorable. Because of the wonderful dramatization on the audio cassette, I passed an afternoon at work more pleasantly, being entertained by the acting skills of the readers. However, if I'd been merely reading a text version of this story, I wouldn't have finished it because the plot did not interest me enough to deserve my full attention. The characters are too typical of a mystery novel, the prose style unremarkable, and the ending not too exciting.
on February 12, 2002
This is a superlative production. Yulin doesn't merely read, he performs, and his voice matches the role. The other parts are nearly all well played, and the music never intrudes. Atmospheric and involving for 9 hours!
The book is one of MacDonald's last, and it has some of the overwrought quality that mar his later books, but this is only occasionally a distraction.
For those looking for other MacDonalds, the best are The Chill, Far Side of the Dollar, the Zebra-Striped Hearse, The Galton Case (all from 1959-65).